Tel Jezreel, Jezreel Spring and Naboth's vineyard
Tel Jezreel (tel yizra'el in Hebrew) is located on a rocky spur on the foothills of the Gilboa Mountain Range. It was the main fortress of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the 9th century BCE. The site provides wonderful views over the eastern Jezreel Valley. Archeological digs have been carried out on the tel, but there is nothing for visitors to view. You can also take a short, easy hike to the Jezreel Spring and pool in the Jezreel Valley. You may well be walking on the very path that King Ahab took when visiting Naboth’s vineyard!
The Jezreel Valley received this name because of the fortress at Yizra’el. This fortress on the side of the valley overlooked the Via Maris in the valley below, the important highway that connected Egypt to Syria and Mesopotamia. The fortress also overlooked a major north-south road that connected Jerusalem to the Galilee via Ganim (Jenin).
Yizra’el was one of the main residences of the kings of Israel. Ahab’s father Omri built Samaria as the southern capital of his Israelite Kingdom, and Yizra’el was probably his northern capital. It contained his main army and chariot force. We know from Assyrian inscriptions that Ahab participated in a battle against the Assyrians with a force of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers.
HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO THE JEZREEL SPRING
Time: Just under an hour there and back.
Distance: 2 Km there and back.
Type of hike: Same way there and back.
Difficulty: Easy walking along a gravel path with some stone steps. The incline is not particularly steep.
Directions: Enter “Tel Jezreel” into Waze. This will bring you to the parking lot for the tel.
Admission: There is no admission charge, no brochure, and no facilities such as WCs.
Public transport: There are a number of bus routes that stop close to the tel. Enter "Tel Yizreel" into Moovit.
Hidden by a eucalyptus grove are the Jezreel Spring, pool, picnic tables, and camping places.
A HIKE FROM TEL JEZREEL TO THE JEZREEL SPRING
From the parking lot take the trail to the Observation Point. You will pass a sign in Hebrew relating the Biblical account of Naboth’s murder.
At the Observation Point is a sign with distances to the places you are viewing.
Ahead of you (to the north), on the far side of the Jezreel Valley, is the Hill of Moreh (Givat HaMoreh). In front of and to the left (west) of this hill are Moshav Merhavia and Kibbutz Merhavia. The Arab town of Sulam (known in the Bible as Shumen) is at the foot of this hill. To your west in the Jezreel Valley is the city of Afula, and north of this in the hills of the Galilee the city of Nazareth. The Jezreel Spring below you is hidden from your view because of the eucalyptus grove.
The blue-marked trail turns down the hill.
At the base of the hill pass through the open gate and continue straight ahead through the field.
At the edge of the field turn right to the pool. In the center of the pool are the ruins of a house. There is a parking lot, picnic benches and places for camping.
At the time of the northern Israelite kingdom, this spring would have been protected by the lower city of Jezreel.
Return to your car the way you came.
Naboth's vineyard and the power of monarchy
The Biblical account of Naboth and his vineyard is a story about three systems of ethics in relation to monarchy. One system is the usual one for that historic period. Kings received their power from the gods and they could do whatever they could get away with. Diametrically opposed to this is the proposition of monotheism and the Torah system of ethics promoted by the prophets of Israel such as Elijah that a king is never above the law. Additional restrictions were even imposed on the king by the Torah to limit his power, such as the prohibition of having too many wives and too many horses (for chariots). The Northern Israelite Kingdom had a hybrid system. It was culturally Jewish and sometimes held by Torah ethics, but it was also open to the cultures around and frequently embraced paganism.
King Ahab was set up by his father Omri to become one of the most powerful monarchs in the region. Omri sealed an alliance with the important state of Phoenicia by marrying his son to Jezebel, the daughter of the Phoenician king. As did Solomon, Ahab built a temple to Baal so she could worship her gods. Sensing Israel’s ambivalence with respect to monotheism, this strong-willed woman pushed for the worship of Baal Melqart, the deity of Tyre, to become the dominant form of worship in her husband’s kingdom. She attempted to eliminate the prophets of God and supported financially 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. This led to a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and Elijah killing these prophets. However, this was not enough to curb Jezebel’s zeal for changing Ahab’s kingdom to paganism.
Adjacent to Ahab’s palace in Jezreel was Naboth's vineyard and Ahab desired to make it into a vegetable garden. Ahab offered him a replacement of even greater worth or an outright sale. Naboth refused both saying: “God forbid that I should give to you what I have inherited from my fathers” (1 Kings 21:4). Naboth was well within his rights to say this, since according to Biblical law land in Israel was not to be sold in perpetuity but had to be returned to its tribal owner (Leviticus 25:23). When Jezebel found out how upset her husband was, she sent letters to the elders and officials of the city to find two false witnesses to accuse Naboth of blaspheming the monotheistic God and the king. He was found guilty and following Biblical law he was stoned. In this situation, normal inheritance would be bypassed and his estate would go to the king. Ahab deliberately turned a blind eye to what his wife was doing.
Elijah the prophet was told by God to confront Ahab with the well-known words “Have you murdered and then inherited?” (I Kings 21:19). Elijah prophesied that measure for measure, Ahab and his queen would die, as would all his dynasty and their blood would be lapped up by the dogs.
Ahab repented and his punishment was delayed. Nevertheless, he died three years later in battle and the blood from his chariot was lapped up by the dogs at the pool in Samaria. Elijah’s successor Elisha encouraged Jehu, one of Ahab’s generals, to carry out a palace coup. He killed Ahab’s son and successor King Yoram, killed all of Ahab's other sons and Jezebel. Also, all the Baal worshippers in the kingdom.
Interestingly, indicators of a nearby winery have been found in the valley just south of Kibbutz Jezreel, including rock cut vats and a treading floor, but there is no definitive evidence linking it to Naboth.